Last night was a confusing experience. It was painful to experience 1,500 innings of baseball between March through last night, only to see it all go up in flames in the span of 10 minutes. I thought a few hours sleep might help my perspective, but it didn't. I'm still unsure where to begin this post-game write up. So, here's where I'm at with the following...
Terry Collins, the offense and Madison Bumgarner
There is no question Collins knows how to keep his team focused and fighting. His players clearly love and respect him. But, the way he handles in-game situations can be unbelievably inconsistent and confusing. I will have a difficult time all winter accepting that in the eighth inning of a tie game facing elimination, he chose to have Eric Campbell and Ty Kelly hit in a huge moment while Lucas Duda, Michael Conforto and Travis d'Arnaud could not. At the same time, would it have mattered with the way Bumgarner pitched.
Similarly, why pinch hit Campbell late in a game he wasn't good enough to start two hours earlier against the same pitcher? And, why didn't Collins double switch for Addison Reed, letting d'Arnaud lead off the next inning? Of course, would any of this mattered with the way Bumgarner pitched.
Also, where was Yoenis Cespedes the last month? He swung at everything, falling down at the plate and hobbling around the outfield. He didn't stretch with the position players, for what it's worth. So, maybe he was hurt again? It probably doesn't matter, considering how Bumgarner pitched.
I don't know how to square Bumgarner's incredible night and obvious ability to rise above the occasion to pitch brilliantly in do-or-die games. A lot of moments can be second-guessed, but those may not matter. This entire Mets season had been plagued by an inability to put the ball in play and score without hitting a home run. It ebbed and flowed all year. But, last night, Bumgarner wasn't going to let himself be fooled. So, pinch hit, don't pinch hit, move a guy to third or not, start Lucas Duda instead of James Loney, double switch, whatever. Some decisions may have mattered, but I'm not convinced that it would have. Bumgarner won the game more than the Mets lost it.
Jeurys Familia in the big game
He performed well down the stretch this September, pitched great against the Dodgers and Cubs last October and has nearly 100 saves over the last two years, yet couldn't execute in the World Series or last night's Wild Card Game. This is life with a big-league closer. He's still one of the most effective relievers in baseball, but this is going to haunt him, I fear. He's going to hear about it all winter. He was clearly upset in the clubhouse after the game. He's going to be asked about it all spring, all next season and until he can disprove his skeptics. He's going to be their closer next season, rightfully so. I hope he can handle it. I think he can. But it's not going to be easy.
Noah Syndergaard rising to the challenge
Syndergaard was terrific. His presence on the mound was felt from the field to the top of the ballpark. He should be proud, but not satisfied. He can better and learn a lot from Bumgarner. Syndergaard knows he must be more efficient. He did better pitching to contact toward the end of the season. I'm sure last night he felt he needed to be all power -- all Thor -- and not mess around. Had he been more creative, he may have had more in the tank to stay in the game longer. Experience creates wisdom. He's now the only young starting pitcher on the team to pitch in back-to-back postseasons. He knows what to do. And he'll be better for it next season and beyond. He's a true ace.
The wild card game
It's great. Don't like it? Win the division. It's that simple. Otherwise, it's fun and great for baseball. Sure, it's essentially Game 163 -- same regular-season credential, no regal markings on the field, no patriotic bunting, etc. But, it felt like a postseason game. It looked like a postseason game. It was October. And the Mets and Giants got a second chance to fight for the World Series, while the Cardinals, Marlins and Pirates did not. So, it counts.
The crowd at Citi Field
It was a timid, tense crowd. There were loud moments during the night -- rising to our feet during two-strike counts, cheering whenever Syndergaard walked off the mound. However, for the most part, people were quiet, even deep with the game scoreless. When the Giants scored their three runs, which was devistating, there were thousands of fans making their way to the exits -- despite the Mets still having an at-bat, and despite people paying hundreds of dollars for tickets. Even more left after Cespedes flied out to lead off the bottom of the ninth inning. It was disappointing. That said, I can't point fingers. I was hardly rowdy and also felt nervous and doubtful all game. I blame Bumgarner and the previous, exhausting 162-game marathon. It was strange and stressful night that slipped away in the blink of an eye. 162 games and eight innings, then - poof - season over. I can't wait to get back at it next year...
The hot stove season
The conversation will quickly turn to Cespedes -- when will he opt out of his contract and what happens next. Will the Mets pick up Jay Bruce's option? How does Sandy Alderson help the offense? Is there going to be a shake-up on the coaching staff? Today will be about dissecting last night and the end of the season. But I can't wait to start working to figure out how they improve this team. They still have an incredible group of young pitchers, all of whom should be healthy and ready for battle in February, including Zack Wheeler and Matt Harvey. With a few, key tweaks to the lineup, there is no reason they can't make the postseason for a third straight season.